SEATTLE — Welcome back to the real NFL, Adam Gase.
A year ago in Week 3, preparation for a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field was a little easier for the up-and-coming offensive coordinator. Talk about having the wind at your back: Gase had a red-hot Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning who was leading the NFL in passer rating (six touchdowns, no interceptions, 126.5) with a full complement of proven wide receivers, including Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders, in an offense Manning and the Broncos had been running for two-plus seasons.
It wasn’t push-button coaching like many people think, but Gase’s chore was a little bit more challenging this week in preparation for a game against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. His quarterback is Jimmy Clausen, who has started one game in the last five years. With his best wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, out with a hamstring injury, Clausen’s top wide receivers will be Eddie Royal, Marquess Wilson and Joshua Bellamy. Clausen will be one of six players in new positions from last season in an offense Gase has been running for two regular-season games.
It’s worth noting that even with everything going his way in Denver last year, Manning and the Broncos’ offense struggled against the Seahawks on the road. The Broncos scored three points through three quarters before Manning rallied them to overtime, where they lost 26-20. Manning’s 85.7 passer rating was the only one lower than 110.2 in the first seven games of the season.
That does not bode well for Clausen against a higher degree-of-difficulty. But the bigger challenge is for Gase, who is getting a golden opportunity to prove he can do more than give Peyton Manning a play with two options. And while its way too soon to make definitive judgments, the early returns were unimpressive.
The Bears’ offense, which proudly fought to the end in an opening-week loss to the Packers, broke down after Clausen replaced Jay Cutler, who suffered a hamstring injury trying to make a tackle after an interception.
The Bears’ offensive line committed six penalties. Clausen had two passes batted at the line of scrimmage. He threw one interception. And the Bears settled for field goals after having first downs at the Arizona 22 and 12 late in the first half. Clausen finished 14-of-23 for 121 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception for a 56.6 rating.
Of the five quarterbacks to relieve starters this season, Clausen’s performance statistically was the worst. The others had an average rating of 94.0 — the Cowboys’ Brandon Weeden (149.7), the Texans’ Ryan Mallett (110.4), the Raiders Matt McGloin (91.1) and the Browns’ Johnny Manziel (75.3).
“I was more disappointed in the play calling [than the way the team responded],” Gase said. “I thought I did a poor job of putting those guys in a good position. After watching the tape, I feel I could have put Jimmy in some better spots. That was my biggest criticism. I should have done a better job [of] putting our players in a better position.”
But even Gase acknowledged this is new territory for him.
“In Denver, the only time I had to go to Brock [Osweiler] was when we were up by a lot,” Gase said. “So now when you’re in a situation where the backup gets thrown in in the middle of a game, you’ve got to change speeds. That’s one of the things you’ve got to be ready for and I didn’t do a very good job last week.”
Gase will get another chance to get it right after a full week of practice with Clausen prior to facing the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. As challenges of overcoming adversity go, it’s too much, too soon, of course — like taking the LSAT after failing a pop-quiz. But he’s going to have to figure it out eventually, because the reality of the NFL is much closer to Jimmy Clausen than Peyton Manning.